Thursday, October 2, 2008

What If

In a fun parody, Victor Davis Hanson at NRO puts all of Joe Biden's howlers and other goofy utterances in the mouth of Sarah Palin and tacitly invites the reader to wonder what her treatment from the media would be like if she had said half the dumb things that Biden has said.

Tonight Sarah Palin will debate Joe Biden (in an event moderated by Gwen Ifil who has a big financial stake in a Biden win). I was thinking about this debate today and the treatment that Palin has gotten from the media and the left-wing blogs, and the thought occurred to me that it's a wonder that any good person runs for elective office in this country. Fine people like Palin are ridiculed and treated with contempt by the Charles Gibsons of the world while crooks, scam artists, buffoons and perverts like Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, William Jefferson, Nancy Pelosi and many others get a complete pass from the media. Why do good people subject themselves to the abuse and humiliation they must endure to serve the people when others who have no business being seated in Congress are never examined, never questioned, never exposed because they happen to be members of the correct party?

I suppose it's true that when the people in a democracy don't take the time to find out what their political leadership is doing, and who they are, they wind up with the politicians they deserve.


Hurtling Toward the Cliff

I have on many previous occasions argued here at Viewpoint that an atheistic worldview leads to nihilism, or it would if the atheist were consistent with his fundamental assumption that there is no God. Our worldview is like a train which, once we climb aboard, heads off toward a particular destination. The terminus toward which the atheistic train is bound is a yawning abyss of despair and nihilism. If one stays on the train all the way one inevitably plunges into the chasm. Few are willing to go all the way, however, so, once they see the abyss looming ahead, they jump off the train.

Atheistic physicist Stephen Weinberg, in an article in The New York Times Review of Books titled Without God, looks down the track and espies clearly the cliff over which his atheism will plunge him:

[T]he worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law and the laws of nature, of the sort imagined by philosophers from Anaximander and Plato to Emerson. We even learn that the emotions that we most treasure, our love for our wives and husbands and children, are made possible by chemical processes in our brains that are what they are as a result of natural selection acting on chance mutations over millions of years. And yet we must not sink into nihilism or stifle our emotions. At our best we live on a knife-edge, between wishful thinking on one hand and, on the other, despair. What, then, can we do?

Weinberg is about to jump off the train. He won't give up his atheism, but he can't bear to follow it to its logical endpoint either.

So he urges his readers to embrace humor, beauty, pleasure, and moral virtue despite the fact that there's no non-arbitrary reason why anyone should do so and no reason to think that these could inject any real meaning into the otherwise dreary ordeal of life. Weinberg's answer reminds me of a parable that Leo Tolstoy tells in his Confessions:

"There is an old Eastern fable about a traveler in the steppes who is attacked by a furious wild beast. To save himself the traveler gets into a waterless well; but at the bottom of it he sees a dragon with its jaws wide open to devour him. The unhappy man dares not get out for fear of the wild beast, and dares not descend for fear of the dragon, so he catches hold of the branch of a wild plant growing in a crevice of the well. His arms grow tired, and he feels that he must soon perish, death awaiting him on either side, but he still holds on; and he sees two mice, one black and one white, gradually making their way round the stem of the wild plant on which he is hanging, nibbling it through. The plant will soon give way and break off, and he will fall into the jaws of the dragon. The traveler sees this, and knows that he must inevitably perish; but, while still hanging, he looks around him, and, finding some drops of honey on the leaves of the wild plant, he stretches his tongue and licks them.

"Thus do I cling to the branch of life, knowing that the dragon of death inevitably awaits me, ready to tear me to pieces, and I cannot understand why such tortures have fallen to my lot. I also strive to suck the honey which once comforted me, but this honey no longer rejoices me, while the white mouse and the black, day and night, gnaw through the branch to which I cling. I see the dragon plainly, and the honey is no longer sweet. I see the dragon, from which there is no escape, and the mice, and I cannot turn my eyes away from them. It is no fable, but a living, undeniable truth, to be understood of all men...."

Weinberg, like many atheists, is like the man in the well about to die but somehow persuading himself that licking the honey has some point to it.


Sowell on the Bailout

Thomas Sowell explains why the collapse of Freddie and Fannie is not a failure of free market economics but rather a predictable consequence of government involving itself in the marketplace. He says, for example, that:

[V]oters [don't] deserve to be deceived on the eve of an election by the notion that this is a failure of free markets that should be replaced by political micro-managing.

If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were free market institutions they could not have gotten away with their risky financial practices because no one would have bought their securities without the implicit assumption that the politicians would bail them out.

It would be better if no such government-supported enterprises had been created in the first place and mortgages were in fact left to the free market. This bailout creates the expectation of future bailouts.

Sowell also explains briefly why it's wrongheaded to try to blame this crisis on the Bush administration. It's a good op-ed but the page on which it's found seems to take a while to load. Nevertheless, it's worth the wait.